Playing Coachella, one of the world’s best-known festivals, the 18-year-old from the northern French city of Rouen found himself an unexpectedly major draw, with an overflowing crowd of thousands swaying at his set under a giant tent in the baking California desert.
Unassuming in shorts and a short-sleeve button-up shirt with an inscription of his stage-name — which means “little cookie” and is inevitably anglicized in pronunciation by English-speaking fans — Petit Biscuit showed off his skill at guitar and keyboards in between DJ-ing, as fiery sparks shot up from the stage.
“I loved the sound of the instruments I could play but I was never satisfied,” Petit Biscuit, whose given name is Mehdi Benjelloun, told AFP before his set at Coachella, which takes place over back-to-back weekends with identical lineups.
“Being original in music means creating everything from scratch. It’s not just about creating melodies but creating the textures that accompany the music,” he said.
“I need to have infinite possibilities. That’s why I decided to do electronic music.”
His breakthrough came in 2015 when the then 15-year-old uploaded “Sunset Lover.” The song encapsulates much of Petit Biscuit’s sound, carrying a gentle melancholy over a mid-tempo beat that is unusually understated for house music.
Driven by a lonesome guitar line and a digitally distorted vocal melody full of unarticulated yearning, “Sunset Lover” has been streamed more than 257 million times on Spotify.
“It wasn’t anything I had even dreamed of,” he said of the song’s success. “I didn’t know anyone in the music business. I just said, here we go, I’m going to post something.
“Just as simple as that — and it worked.”
– Touring instead of school –
Shortly after finishing high school last year, Petit Biscuit released his debut album, “Presence.”
After initially aspiring to university, he dropped out to pursue music full-time. After Coachella, he will travel around the world with dates that include festivals in Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia as well as Lollapalooza in Chicago.
He says he sometimes makes two or three demo recordings in a single day as music comes into his head.
“It all comes to me really quickly. I get frustrated when I’m on tour and can’t compose,” he said.
While more comfortable speaking French, he feels at home in the United States and its electronic dance music scene — which has taken over pop festivals in the past decade.
“We don’t have the same culture. Electronic music in France isn’t the same at all. I see myself as something that’s a bit pop, a little bit more chill and a little less techno,” he said.
– Fueled by streaming –
Petit Biscuit began to fiddle around with Fruity Loops, the do-it-yourself mixing app now known as FL Studio, when he was 12.
But he also incorporates his more formal musical background. “Follow Me,” off “Presence,” brings in subtle orchestral elements in a mellow electronic mix that takes on a New Age feel.
Petit Biscuit doubts he could have risen to his level in an earlier era. He eschews record labels, self-releasing all of his music directly on streaming sites.
“Today more or less anyone can post on a streaming platform,” he said.
“It’s the audience, not the record labels, who’s speaking now. They’re the masters — they choose the music they want to hear and whether they like it or not.”